Content Curated By Darin R. McClure & a few photos


Stop Demonizing Preppers
February 21, 2013, 8:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Stop Demonizing Preppers:

My friend Ceredwyn Alexander lives on a homestead in the
mountains of Vermont. She and her family raise a lot of their own
food, from chickens to cabbage, and they heat their home with wood
they chop themselves. (She won’t live anywhere, she tells me,
“without supplemental heat that operates without electricity.”)
They worry about peak oil. They try not
to buy things on credit. They always keep a great deal of food and
water and other supplies on hand. If everything goes to hell
tomorrow, they want to be prepared.
People who say and do such things are often called
preppers, and Ceredwyn willingly applies the term to
herself: It’s a decent label, she says, for people who try to be
prepared for sudden, disruptive emergencies. If you’ve been
absorbing the recent portraits of preppers in the press, where
they’ve been depicted as doomsday-fearing right-wing paranoiacs
stocking up on guns and canned goods, you may think you know all
there is to know about Ceredwyn. But before you use your stock of
stereotypes to fill in those blanks, here are a few more facts
about her.
Her politics are liberal and feminist. Her family’s firearm
collection consists of a single shotgun, which they own in case a
four-legged predator passes through. (As I said, she lives in rural
Vermont.) She speaks disdainfully about survivalists who spend
their time “waiting for the Mutant Zombie Bikers to come take their
guns, drugs, and women away.” Ask her about survival strategies,
and she doesn’t start spinning fantasies about a well-provisioned
family fending off looters. “When the shit hit the fan during
Irene,”
she says instead, “neighbors were everyone’s best resource.”
Preparedness, she says, requires “learning skills and community
involvement…not freeze dried food and razor wire.” To those ends,
she has joined the volunteer fire
department
and become the town service officer.
As far as the mass media are concerned, America’s preeminent
preppers are the Alabama kidnapper Jimmy Lee Dykes; Nancy Lanza,
whose son raided her gun collection before he carried out the Sandy
Hook massacre; and the people who appear on the National Geographic
TV show
Doomsday Preppers
, who might charitably be described as
“colorful.” Dykes “is described by neighbors as ‘very paranoid,’
anti-government and possibly a ‘Doomsday prepper,'” the New York
Daily News
reported
. The London Independent
called
Lanza a “so-called ‘prepper,’ a part of the survivalist
movement which urges individuals to prepare for the breakdown of
society by training with weapons and hoarding food and other
supplies.” When the liberal historian
Rick Perlstein
wrote about preppers in The
Nation
 this month, he headlined his
essay
“Nothing New Under the Wingnut Sun: ‘Survivalism.'” After
invoking Dykes and Lanza in his lead, he talked about the
right-wing survivalists of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, linking them
to the preppers of the present by describing the lot of them as
“Americans who fear change, fear difference, fear you and me, fear
everything falling apart. So much so that they organize
their lives and politics around staving off the fear—which often
entails taking political action that only makes America more
fearful and dangerous for everyone; which destroy the trust and
love it takes to sustain communities; and who reinforce one another
in their fear to such a degree that the less crazy among them
surely play a positive role in spurring the more crazy to the kind
of awful acts we see around us now.” (Speaking of fears that people
who are different are making the world fall apart.)
In fact, the prepper community includes a lot of political and
cultural variety. If there is right-wing survivalist DNA here,
there is also the DNA of the Whole
Earth Catalog
and several generations of bohemian
back-to-the-landers, plus a fair number of families whose
inspiration isn’t much larger than the Boy Scout motto, “Be
Prepared.” Tour the online prepper communities, and you may well
run into people who have embraced the long-lived
conspiracy yarn
in which the Federal Emergency Management
Agency is plotting to put us in concentration
camps
. You may also encounter FEMA itself, which currently has
an advertisement on
the front page of the American Preppers
Network
. The ad asks, “Do you meet President Obama’s minimum
Prepper Standards? Are you ‘FEMA Ready’?” Talk about
all-encompassing diversity.
There may be even more diversity in the scenarios these people
are preparing for. Ceredwyn got her family on board with her
prepperdom about 12 years ago, when an ice storm hit their
then-home in Shreveport. “We were out of power for 10 days,” she
recalls. “No heat, no water, no stove, no phone. Couldn’t leave the
house for three days due to ice. Could have been completely awful,
but we had everything we needed, including a propane heater and
stove I bought.” Her own interest in preparedness began earlier,
when she was working for an abortion clinic: “Nothing like being
the possible victim of terrorism to get the survivalist juices
flowing,” she recalls. Or maybe it was even earlier than that: In
an
essay
for her blog, she writes about

the day I told my mom that my dad had a girlfriend. My mom’s
carefully wrought denial came crashing down around her ears. She
then found out that my dad had drained the various savings
accounts. She filed for divorce the next day….In short order, we
went from the sort of people who gave to charity, to being the sort
of people who had to choose between eating and paying the light
bill.
We got through it, obviously, but my mother never enjoyed
upper-middle-classdom again. I am left with a fear of empty
cupboards and a clear understanding that, at any moment, the bottom
could drop out of my world.

Disasters, she concludes, come in all shapes and sizes, and they
strike people every day. “It’s always interesting to me that people
talk about collapse as though it’s in the far off future, and as if
it will hit everyone, everywhere, at the same moment,” she writes
in that essay. “Many, many people are already living in a state of
collapse. It doesn’t matter if the rest of the world is going
merrily on when you’ve been evicted, your kids are hungry, you have
an infected tooth you can’t take care of, and you’re trying not to
let anyone know the family’s been sleeping in the minivan.” It’s a
class-conscious take on poverty, disabilities, and other issues
that might not come up much on Doomsday Preppers but
obviously isn’t absent from preppers’ minds. When the American
Preppers Network lists problems to prepare for, it explicitly

includes
“the loss or major injury of a breadwinner, loss of a
primary job, extended sickness, accidents and other personal
calamities.”
OK, you say, so preppers aren’t all nuts. In the
future, when I want to make fun of people holed up in a suburban
fortress awaiting a zombie attack, I’ll use a more specific term.
But so what? Does it really matter if some of the stories I’ve seen
in the last few months have been too sweeping?

Yes, it does. It’s always worthwhile to push back when a
subculture gets scapegoated, whether it’s Goths after Columbine or
preppers today. It’s especially important when those attacks are
embedded in our political debates, skewing the ways we see the
world.
Consider one of those divisions within the prepper culture, the
one that separates the people engaged with their local communities
from the people preparing to go it alone against the lawless zombie
hordes. (A member of the Zombie
Eradication Response Team
, a group that does survival training,

told
a reporter last year that “‘zombie’ is really just a
palatable metaphor for some guy trying to take your stuff.”) This
division also exists, and is much more important, in the world of
official disaster preparation. On one side there are
emergency workers and social scientists who understand that

looting
and
panic
do not usually break out after a disaster, that
spontaneous cooperation to solve problems is
the norm
, and that the real first responders, as
the saying goes
, are the calamity’s victims themselves. On the
other side there are officials whose first instinct in a natural
disaster is to get ready for a riot and who think they need to
withhold information to prevent panic. In other words, officials
afraid of the lawless hordes. If they imagine a post-disaster
world filled with trigger-happy survivalists, that’s just going to
reinforce their fear of the public.
Anti-prepper rhetoric is affecting the debate over gun laws in a
similar way. There are those who perceive the people at the scene
of a crime as informal first responders, and who thus see
widespread gun ownership as a neighborly civic virtue, and there
are people who are wary of any approach to crime control that
doesn’t depend on the police, and who thus see widespread gun
ownership as a recipe for a Hobbesian nightmare. Now, the
social science on gun ownership is more
ambiguous
than the research on how communities respond to
disasters. If you rely on the National Self Defense
Survey
, you’ll conclude that firearms are used defensively much
more often than they are misused; if you follow the National
Crime Victimization Survey
, you’ll say successful self-defense
is less common; and of course there are scholars who think the
truth sits somewhere
in-between
. With the data disputed, political imagery becomes
all the more influential. And the image of the anti-social
survivalist feeds the impression that gun owners, particularly gun
owners interested in more than just sport shooting, are yet another
lawless horde.
So the gun owner is envisioned as a prepper, and the prepper is
envisioned as a frightened survivalist. Neither real-world gun
owners nor real-world preppers are well-served by these
stereotypes. And neither is anyone who isn’t a gun owner or a
prepper but who wants an accurate image of the world.


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